–As the Enlightenment spread throughout Europe and the America’s throughout the 17th century and the new way of discovering ‘facts’ became normative, as every movement does it eventually began losing steam, and life throughout the Western World settled down to a normal ebb and flow. In countries like Great Britain and America where self-evident truth had been a bedrock to the very founding of their societies, intellectuals attempted to live within a paradox of accepting the new fact-based philosophy while at the same time retaining some connection to self-evident truth. Ultimately, these two contradictory ways of thinking could not coexist forever, but self-evident truth would still remain well into the 20th century. However, in Germany the course of human history would take a very dark turn compared to her fellow Western countries.
For much of the 19th century, Germany was going through massive growing pains as she progressed from an agrarian old-world economy into a fact-based scientific society. The pains were intense at times with various famines, political upheaval, unemployment, protests, and wars. Because of the massive social unrest, at various intervals throughout the 19th century, massive groups of Germans would leave the country altogether, often migrating to rural areas of North America. This led the Germans who stayed in the mother country with a constant feeling of loss, as though something was needed to bring unity to society and bring relief to social unrest that permeated the land.
In the midst of this political and philosophical upheaval, a group of academics, (largely consisting of Germans, and many of them referring to themselves as ‘Continental Philosophers’) suddenly rose to prominence; these men had fresh new ideas and the German people were ripe and ready for some new solutions. Nowhere else in the world did Enlightenment philosophy retain such an extended mark on society than among these Continental idealists. Led by men such as Hegel, Schelling, Feurebach, Heinrich Heine, Nietzche, Marx, Engels, and later on Martin Heidegger; these men would build upon the concepts of positivistic science found during the Enlightenment and apply it consistently to every facet of human thinking and understanding. While each of the these philosophers differed on various points, some major and some minor, at the core of their thesis was that it was only through a fact-based philosophy that any truth could ever be known. The sheer volume of essays, research publications, and books these men published is staggering, yet even more so is how the masses of academics around the world devoured everything they had to say, and especially how much the German people embraced this new found ideological worldview.
After nearly two generations of the Continental philosophers having applied the scientific method to every manner in which the human mind could think, in the early 1930’s a man named Adolph Hitler would be the first person to attempt to fully implement ‘science’ and ‘facts’ to political society. Of course, the devastating consequences of Hitler’s rise to power and all the heinous atrocities committed by Germany during WWII is widely known; what is important to our story is Hitler and his philosopher Heidegger’s absolute unwavering commitment to applying the scientific method and a fact-based philosophy to everything they attempted to accomplish during their awful reign.
Hitler and Heidegger took seriously all that the Enlightenment principles embodied and that which was elaborated by the German idealists; they wholeheartedly abandoned the morality and ethics of the old world that were confirmed in self-evident truth in exchange for cold-hearted brute ‘facts’. All that Hitler and Heidegger cared about was ‘facts’, and namely the ‘facts’ that they discovered by implementing the scientific method.
As we have seen repeatedly, the frightful problem with a fact-based approach is that the ‘facts’ are constantly changing; the ‘facts’ that Hitler and Heidegger ‘discovered’ were no truer than the ‘facts’ that scientists ‘discover’ about caffeine and butter which are in a constant state of flux depending on the latest scientific study. Whether it was the ‘fact’ that Jews, blacks and others were inferior to the white race, whether it was the ‘fact’ that using little children in heinous science experiments was not immoral, whatever ‘fact’ that Hitler and Heidegger discovered, their ‘facts’ were decidedly evil.
Reading their writings, one might be astounded at how committed they were to the scientific method. The principles that built the Nazi war machine were not the ruminations of crazed lunatics, but of impassioned thinking men who sought to practice science and the scientific method in everything they did. As WWII came to a close, and the atrocities of the German idealists became public, the world immediately began to question how it could be possible for a society of men and women to do what they did. Even among the most evil, barbarous peoples in the ancient world, no comparisons could be found of the type of evil that enveloped the totality of Nazi Germany.
It was in this backdrop that three Jewish academics, each of them barely escaping the Nazi concentration camps, came to the United States during WWII and began questioning the fact-based philosophy that had led to the radical authoritarianism in Germany. Hannah Arendt, Eric Voeglin, and Leo Strauss were by trade political philosophy professors, and while each of them saw quite clearly the manner in which fact-based thinking was leading to fradulent systems of thinking in the other sciences such as biology and physics, because their area of expertise was philosophy they attempted to communicate to the public this growing danger through the realm of political science.
Hannah Arendt was a prominent German professor leading up to WWII and was also the mistress of the Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger for a number of years before she escaped the country. Being Heidegger’s lover, Arendt had perhaps the most intimate window into the mind of the Nazi fact-based mind and later crafted together her magnum opus “The Origins of Totalitarianism”. Arendt saw clearly the disconnect that had occurred between ancient religious traditions and modern fact-based science, she writes, “In the modern age, when the continuity of the tradition was broken, man fond himself in a condition of intellectual and political confusion”. The new empirical sciences had sought to rid the world of both religion and self-evident truth, and while it offered a great plethora of ‘facts’ to believe, it never properly replaced the ethical systems that the ancient origin stories offered humanity as a moral compass. The ‘facts’ were constantly changing, and more importantly the ‘facts’ depended on the bias of the scientific researcher; his personal knowledge, ethics, and ideas influenced how he interpreted the data and the ‘factual conclusion’ he arrived.
Arendt understood the collapse of these traditions as having “brought us to the threshold of a radical nihilism”. After she escaped to America she continued her academic career and wrote prolifically on the subject of fact-based philosophies leading to radical totalitarianism, unfortunately, while her books were read widely, they eventually occupied space in the back of libraries and gathered dust. The public never realized Arendt’s central point; that it was through the philosophy of ‘facts’ that the Not-Religion scientists of Nazi Germany created one of the most evil societies known to man.
Like Arendt, Eric Voeglin was a well-known professor prior to WWII, teaching in Vienna, he and his wife departed when the Nazi’s invaded the country. Settling in America Voegelin wrote extensively about the “New Science of Politics” and attempted to communicate to the masses that the new sciences had caused a fissure between the old world; he wrote massive volumes charting the historical rise of scientific positivism in pre-Enlightenment France and how its waves rippled across Europe and influenced all of the great Continental philosophers toward a new kind of thinking that would always lead to totalitarianism. While Voeglin never received the same acclaim that Arendt would receive, his works were distributed widely in academic circles, but as society moved further away from the Nazi problem, his writings became nothing more than the interest of obscure academics.
Leo Strauss also emigrated to America as a way of saving his life from the Nazi’s and settled as a professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago. Just like his contemporaries Arendt and Voeglin, he dedicated his life to exposing the massive flaws of the empirical sciences. Strauss’s main area of critique was the German sociologist Max Weber who had continued the work of Auguste Compte’s positivistic science. Strauss maintained that Weber’s sociological framework (of which all modern sociology derives) did not have an adequate basis of which to form values out of ‘facts’. He attempted to expose the flaws of Weber’s fact-based value propositions by demonstrating that it was impossible for Weber (or any scientist) to remove their biases and personal values from the equation; Strauss argued with accurate precision how Webers sociological research was filled with flaws, gaffs, and outright un-truths due to the impossibility of Weber being able to be ‘objective’. The only certitudes humanity can have is with self-evident truth Strauss would explain, the same truths that the ancient Greeks, Romans and Jews could ascertain thousands of years ago.
Each of these three thinkers agreed and differed on varying points, but central to their cause was the dangers imposed by creating a society upon a fact-based scientific system. What could stop such a society scientific elites from telling all the people that the ‘facts’ prove that a human pollution is causing a coming catastrophic ice age and then rape the people of their money, and force them to change the way they live due to this alleged coming ice age? What could stop the fact-based scientific elites from ‘discovering’ any particular ‘fact’ and forcing it upon society and demanding social, environmental and political change? Arendt, Voegelin, and Strauss saw from each of their own particular perspectives that such societies would always end up being totalitarian in their thinking and in their organization. This was the great tragedy of the Nazi system; by using only the scientific method and fact-based philosophy, the Nazi’s believed they had discovered ‘facts’ that no societies before them had ever discovered, and then they rallied the entire nation behind those ‘facts’ with the express goal of enforcing their will upon Europe. Many different intellectuals wrote against the Nazi’s using self-evident truths as arguments; yet such arguments fell on deaf ears, who needs self-evident truths when the only thing that matters is ‘facts’?
While Arendt, Voegelin and Strauss never became household names in America, for a brief period in the 1960’s their writings became the consternation of the American Political Science Association. The APSA had by the mid twentieth century fully adopted a fact-based approach and abandoned the old ways of thinking, but much to their dismay, these three professors wouldn’t stop writing essays and books against their craft. Had the three Jewish professors chose the discipline of biology to aim their assault, or physics, then undoubtably they would have annoyed the fact-based scientists in those professions, thus, it was merely because they were using the discipline of political science with which to wage their battle that the APSA was forced to address these rabble-rousers.
At the 1966 APSA general convention, an assortment of fact-based professors were chosen with the express purpose of defending the ‘science’ of their profession against the onslaught of these three political refugees from Europe. Opening the conference, the President of the APSA, Gabriel Almond gave a powerful opening speech and argued that after decades of uncertainty, political science was “becoming a science” and defended the modern fact-based theories as the very heritage that came from the ancient thinkers “Plato and Aristotle through Polybius and Cicero, Aquinas and others”. Thus, instead of directly responding to anything Strauss, Arendt, or Voegelin wrote, Almond simply said, “Political scientists are the true heirs of ancient ways of thinking; it was their foundation that led to our eventual arrival” and ‘that was that’.. After Almond, professor Ithiel de Sola Pool defended Max Weber and Ostrogorski who the three immigrants had attacked in varying ways, and argued that their work was central to organizing proper ‘democratic societies’, not totalitarian societies.
The entire conference was one lecture after another defending all the great positivistic scientists and theorists from the enlightenment onward to the present as being objective, positively relevant, good for society, and other such hardy adjectives. Hardly a negative word was spoken about any of the positivistic thinkers, and more importantly the names of Arendt, Voegelin, and Strauss were barely mentioned in passing. Thus, rather than respond directly to any of the actual arguments that had been made, the APSA decided to simply talk about how wonderful all the positivistic scientists were, how great political science is, and made a point not to address directly the criticisms that were leveled against them. Effectively, the conference ended the battle the three Jewish immigrants had attempted to wage, and the war and conversation that the classical philosophers had hoped to have, never actually took place.
German totalitarianism was an evil unbeholden in history past. These three classical philosophers believed they saw the slippery slope that positivistic science had created and hoped to avert any future society from ever becoming another authoritarian nightmare. Unfortunately, the end of the story for these three academics is that Arendt’s writings were relegated to being occasionally quoted in political science essays but dissected from the main body of her thesis, which was that positivistic science was dangerous. Eric Voegelin’s writings drifted into obscurity, and Strauss was character assassinated by his enemies making it seem he was a neo-con connected to war-mongering Republicans, even though it is doubtful he ever voted for a Republican in his life.
As society drifted from the 20th century into the new millennium, what once seemed an impossibility became a reality; the scientific method and fact-based approach, just as it was used by the Nazi’s to change what people believed about biology, was in North America being used to do the very same thing; suddenly, all of the biological premises that had existed throughout human history were being discarded for new ‘facts’. No longer are humans born ‘male’ or ‘female’, but rather gender is a social construct the scientists would tell society. Oddly enough, coexisting with their ‘factual’ belief that gender is a social construct, these same scientists would tell society that gender is also something that people realize internally; a person born with male anatomy may ‘feel’ female, and vice versa. Contradicting facts would coexist simultaneously in North American culture; people would be told to believe that gender is both a social construct and something they realize internally. And just like Hannah Arendt predicted, fact-based societies would not stop at merely teaching these ideas at the academic level, but they would be compelled to enforce their ideology on the masses through totalitarian government laws; people would be forced to use speech that government would tell them to use. Although it seemed like an Orwellian dystopian novel, Canada, New York City, California and elsewhere throughout North America in the 21st century practiced these totalitarian ways of thinking and they began spreading like wildfire.
However, it was not by mere chance or the imagination of a few people that caused these events to take place, it was only by using the elements of religion that this new fact-based philosophy could take permanence in the minds of men and women. Because people are by their nature, it was necessary to formulate the fact-based philosophy into a religious construct that the masses would find palatable. As we will see, the Not-Religion had spent much of the 19th and 20th centuries perfecting their symbols and origin story, as well as ordaining clerics to teach the people their authoritative ‘facts’; this was in the making for quite a long time.
Fortunately, the best is yet to come.
*Stock Image Jordy Meow unsplash.com